News Children explained: How a vaccination works

Children explained: How a vaccination works


SIf you look at the news at the moment, you can get the impression that everything is only about viruses. While the so-called novel corona virus is spreading in China, the flu wave is in full swing in Germany. And in both cases the question arises: how can you protect yourself so that you don’t get infected with any of the viruses? Where we can hardly avoid coming into contact with people who might infect us? We can prepare our bodies for contact with pathogens by vaccination. It works quite well with the flu, years ago we developed a vaccine that has since been adapted to every new flu wave. Research is still desperately looking for a vaccine against the corona virus.

Lucia Schmidt

Editor in the “Life” section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

The two clinical pictures are examples of how mankind tries to protect itself against dangerous infectious diseases by vaccination. If you take a look at your yellow vaccination card, you will see that there are numerous other diseases that we are effectively protected against today, precisely because we have developed a vaccine against them.

Incidentally, the principle of vaccination is the same for practically all diseases. To put it in a nutshell: Vaccination means that our body gets to know the dangerous pathogen. If we actually catch it then, the organism recognizes the virus or bacterium directly as an enemy. And before it can do any real damage, our immune system effectively fights it with weapons that it has specially trained for this enemy. The result: We stay healthy and usually don’t even notice anything about this small fight scene in our body.

Medically, this is due to the property of our immune system to remember pathogens that it has got to know once. To understand this better, we just have to imagine a pathogen against which we have not been vaccinated. If one of these penetrates into us, phagocytes, a group of our immune cells that absorb and break up the intruders, begin to “eat”. They break the pathogen down into fragments and show these other cells of the immune system. Freely according to the motto: “Look if I have done here.”

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For the other immune cells called T and B lymphocytes, this presentation is the sign that in future everything that resembles fragments in the body will be combated. They can do this by shedding certain harmful substances or producing antibodies that render the pathogen harmless. Sometimes they also mark the pathogen so that the phagocytes find and destroy it as quickly as possible. During this so-called immune response, we feel sick and weak because the body is pretty busy fighting the pathogens. Once he has done that, there are two great consequences: we are healthy again, and so-called memory cells have formed inside the body that remember exactly what this pathogen looked like and what helped it well. If the pathogen dares to re-enter us some time later, then the memory cells can quickly set the appropriate defense mechanisms in motion and fight the pathogen immediately before it damages us again.

When vaccinated, this is exactly what is artificially created. A vaccine contains the fragments of the pathogen that otherwise present the phagocytes – but in such a small and weakened form that they cannot really make you ill. But the fragments are still strong enough for the body to play through an immune response: lymphocytes produce repellents against the components in the vaccine, and the memory cells remember exactly how this works and what helps well. In case of a real contact with the whole pathogen, you can fight it directly and we stay in top shape. Vaccination is worthwhile and is actually one, if not the most effective, measure to protect yourself against certain diseases.

Even more answers to curious children's questions

Even more answers to curious children’s questions

An illustrated selection of articles from our column “How do I explain it to my child?” Has been published by Reclam.

To the publisher’s page


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